The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King Book 2, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The King of England stands with his tutor on the battlements of the Castle Camelot. It is dusk and very peaceful. Far down below them, men plough farmland and fish in the streams. "It was a splendid battle," Arthur comments. Merlyn looks only skeptical and says that they will all come again, the Kings of Orkney, Garloth, Gore, Scotland, The Hundred Knights and The Tower, and next time stronger.
Arthur still has not learned to see the cruelty of warfare. He is very young and his experience of the battle that day was of something romantic and chivalrous.
Themes
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Arthur is unfazed by this prospect. Merlyn, Arthur notices, is upset and asks what he has done. Merlyn says merely that Arthur is stupid. "It was clever of you," Merlyn says, "to win the battle…How many of your kerns [foot soldiers] were killed?" Arthur does not know and begins to shift uncomfortably. It was 700 kerns, Merlyn informs him, and not a single knight was hurt.
Merlyn must still teach Arthur about the injustice of battle. He describes how the foot soldiers are mistreated, and how their deaths are to the knights simply numbers rather than human lives. In medieval warfare, knights are barely killed—it is the kerns who fight and die, who determine who wins and loses, and yet who are ignored.
Themes
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Merlyn gives Arthur some advice about battles: Arthur should not say a battle was lovely, he needs to think and act like himself, not like his ancestors. "What is all this chivalry, anyway?" Merlyn asks. It is only being rich enough to have a castle and suit of armor, "Might is Right, that's the motto." Arthur is pensive; he had only been thinking of himself earlier, but sees now that Merlyn is right. They decide to think on what Arthur should do about it.
Arthur realizes he had been overlooking the kerns. Merlyn questions the very foundations of chivalry: how being chivalrous is only something hierarchy and money buys you rather than something you have to earn and everyone has the right to earn.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Two men far below are walking back to the castle. Arthur wonders what would happen if he dropped a stone on one of their heads. Merlyn answers that it would kill the man it hit, "You are the King…Nobody can say anything to you if you try." Arthur pretends to be curious and seems to be about to drop the stone. Without moving his body, he knocks Merlyn's hat off his head with the stone.
Because of the laws in place, the King can kill whoever he wishes and would never have to answer for it. This incidence illustrates the power the King has and how arbitrary it is that a King can decide the value of human life. Being King is not much different than being the voice that compels the ants.
Themes
Chivalry, Satire & Medieval Life Theme Icon
Might vs. Right Theme Icon
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